“Puppies who are shy, worried, or anxious throughout early veterinary visits are likely to exhibit the same behaviours as adults at 1.5 to 2 years of age. Early intervention is essential for such dogs.” Karen Overall, Manual of Clinical Behavioural Medicine
“If a timid puppy does not make dramatic gains, it is a sign that formal effort, likely extending well into adulthood, will be necessary.” Jean Donaldson, Culture Clash.
When your vet or trainer tells you that your puppy may benefit from the input of a veterinary Behaviourist it can be a confronting time. Shouldn’t time and love be enough!
Your trainer or vet though has seen hundreds, if not thousands of young animals, and knows what constitutes normal responses in puppies.
A puppy that is exceedingly fearful, has little bounce back and is not exploring the world with rambunctious energy is not normal behaviourally and has a high chance of continuing to suffer from fear and anxiety through later life.
Responses to fear and anxiety will be dependent on breed, but common strategies are reactivity and aggression that come to the fore as the dog reaches social maturity at around 2 -3 years old.
So what can you do?
Early intervention is vital. Just as it is in the treatment of children with developmental issues animals treated earlier make better progress and have more chance of living normal lives.
Behaviour treatments involve managing the fears and anxieties, gentle behaviour modification that proceeds at the puppy’s pace and sometimes with medication as an adjunct.
A veterinary behaviourist is the most qualified professional to assist you with these decisions and making the right choice for your puppy.
All behaviour conditions have come about through the combination of genetics, learning and the environment, but when we see fear in puppies it often has a significant hereditary component. Genetic components to anxiety-based disease need both remedial work and the assistance of behavioural medications that do two things – they protect the brain from stress and they allow the pup to learn new ways of feeling safe. There are many very effective and well-tested medications that can be used for a period of time while the puppy is being assisted by a skilled behavioural trainer.
“Just like us, animals can’t learn anything when they are really scared. And learning not to be scared is a form of learning too! This is when medication can be especially helpful. Medication can reduce the fear so a dog can learn to play games, eat treats, and learn through behaviour modification exercises that she does not need to be fearful. The goal is for the dog to create new neural circuits in her brain and learn on her own not to be fearful of the situation. Then, in the future she may not need medication.” Decoding your Dog editors Debra Horwitz and John Ciribassi